. . .or my struggles with fitness and structural leg length discrepancy.
When we’re growing up we’re constantly told that we have something special about us. My something special, aside from saying hello to random strangers in supermarkets and singing Disney songs at the top of my lungs for anyone that would listen, was a sassy strut to my walk that friends and family liked to tease me about. Being a particularly outgoing and unshy child, my parents chalked this up to a physical manifestation of my extroverted personality (if you’ve had the chance to meet me, you will likely confirm that I put the EXTRA in extrovert).
I never showed much interest in sports or the outdoors as a child, preferring to play make believe and Barbies inside the comfort of my bedroom, but when I hit middle school I started to show an interest in basketball and volleyball and signed up to join my 8th grade sports teams. After a few weeks of playing I started to develop some pain in my left ankle, which triggered a trip to the podiatrist where I was diagnosed with a build up of extra bone in my left ankle and heavy pronation on the same foot. The doctor prescribed a hard plastic orthotic to correct my foot placement, which ultimately led to me giving up on basketball, volleyball, and running due to the pain of wearing the orthotic. My ankles and heels would bleed from the cuts it caused, and my parents allowed me to discontinue use of the insert.
And now here I sit some 10 years later with orthotics wedged in both shoes, mourning the loss of my ability to wear cute ballet flats and heels. After years of frustration and misdiagnosis I have finally found the root of my problems…
In 2016, after allowing the effects of a desk job at a company with an awesome cafeteria to catch up to my body, I decided to join my work’s Boot Camp program. I had packed on an extra 20lbs to my frame, something I thought to be an impossibility for someone who was “naturally thin” her entire life. After 3 months of eating mostly protein and vegetables (not as bad as it sounds), I lost the 20lbs and packed on the beginnings of some muscle. I was incredibly proud of myself and the dedication that I had developed, and was ready to start taking the next step into “fitness”. I wanted to build more muscle, cut more body fat, and be fucking SEXY AF.
But when I started attempting to squat heavier, my trainers noticed that my left hip would jut out and my left glute was refusing to fire. The muscles in my upper left leg were turned off, and continuing to push into a higher weight range could deal considerable damage to my back and body. My trainers recommended seeking physical therapy, and slowly my dedication to lifting and fitness began to decline due to fear of injuring myself. To offset the inability train legs in the gym, I decided to try to build up my leg muscles through cardio, but soon my knees and hips started to ache in ways they never had before.
One weekend, while doing a photoshoot with a photographer friend, I decided to get cheeky and flash my booty at the camera. What was captured in that image was my first visual indication of what was going on inside my body: my right glute was perky, round, and tight; while my left glute was undeveloped, large, and un-muscular. I immediately started Googling what this could mean, and Dr Google eventually led me to the diagnosis of a Lateral Pelvic Tilt. I ran to the mirror in the bathroom, undressed, and shoved my thumbs above my pelvic bones. Sure enough, there was about an inch of difference between the lateral placement of my pelvic bones. My pelvis was heavily tilted, and I was ecstatic to finally have a starting point to move forward from.
I proceeded to Dr Google everything I could possibly find about Lateral Pelvic Tilt (BTW: if you have one of have found my blog from the search of LPT, please feel free to reach out I have learned a TON). LPT can be caused by several factors:
- Functional Leg Length Discrepancy: The muscles throughout the body cause a hiking up of the pelvis on one side, and cause your hip and legs to be raised, making it appear as if one of your legs is longer than the other (which can be helped through physical therapy, stretches, and yoga). This is a common ailment of many desk job employees, due to our common likelihood to slouch into our chairs after staring at a computer screen for hours on end.
- Structural Leg Length Discrepancy: This is a difference in the length of the leg bones, causing a tilted pelvis and is not permanently fixable without surgery. This can be caused due to a leg break not healing well, neurological development disorders, or for undefined reasons. The common treatment for this is to build up the shoe of the short leg with a lift or shim, and the uncommon treatment is surgical bone growth.
Being aware that my exceptional Googling skills do NOT make me a doctor*, I immediately booked an appointment with a Sports Medicine Doctor. He tested my legs, hips and knees for flexibility, watched me walk back and forth down a hallway, and measured my leg length while laying flat on the table. His diagnosis: Functional Leg Length Discrepancy! Hallelujah! Finally an answer, and one that would be fixable with Physical Therapy and continuing my strength training routines! I went to PT … stretched and foam rolled ever day … and finally after months of effort I was balanced and strong. . .
. . . except that isn’t what happened.
Instead, I received one session of physical therapy, where they gave me a list of exercises that I had already been doing from my internet research. I continued doing them for a couple of months and nothing changed. I remained as imbalanced as ever before.
Then I got engaged and threw myself into getting SEXY for my wedding, for which thankfully the standard fashion is a floor length gown that does NOT show of my hips. I focused on upper body, cardio, and avoiding injury. Once I returned from my honeymoon I took a few months off from the gym (because let’s face it after a month of eating cake, cheese, and wine in Europe you wouldn’t want to go back to the gym immediately either). As of last month I decided to get back to making a fitness a priority again.
And that leads me to my Orthopedic appointment last week. I had visited my Primary doctor, explaining to her that my husband and I wanted to start down the baby path soon and that I was worried about the effects pregnancy would have on my lateral pelvic tilt. She assured me it would be fine since most people have a tilted pelvis anyway, and that getting pregnancy MAY even help to balance it back into place since muscles loosen and babies make your pelvis their little romper room. Nonetheless, she gave me my Ortho referral and x-rayed my hips, spine, and ankles to look for any issues, all of which came back perfectly healthy.
Having gone through explaining my situation to doctors several times before, I’m pretty sure I overloaded the poor Ortho when I introduced myself and essentially recapped this contents of this blog entry to him. I explained that I wanted definite proof that this issue was functional, and NOT structural. He easily obliged and sent me to get X-Rays, a day later I had my answer:
My right tibia is 1.25″ shorter than my left.
My left foot pronates heavily to accommodate for the shorter leg, causing my knees to knock and my pelvis to hike. Surprisingly, the scoliosis caused by this is mild and my body does a decent job accommodating for such a significant discrepancy.
Phew, that is a lot of blog. I didn’t intend to drone on so long, but it all just sort of poured out of me. I haven’t even started going over what prompted me to write this entry in the first place: treatment. I am stuck between the easy and the hard path in deciding how to treat this problem. Structural LLD can be treated with orthopedic insoles (like the ones I had as a child), and I am currently wearing a wedge in the heel of my shoe on the short leg. The other option is a surgerical procedure called the PRECISE nail, which involves the repeated breaking of the short leg bone over a months time at the rate of 1mm a day. I’m in the process of researching the pros and cons of both of these options, and hope to share those findings with you along the way.
This blog is in no way solely dedicated to my journey with Leg Length Discrepancy, but after scouring the internet for other people who are going through this I figured it may be helpful to share my perspective and welcome others who may be going through it to! If you’re struggling with LPT or LLD please feel free contact me, I’d love to chat!
*This is a disclaimer that I am in no way a doctor or medical professional, and what is being shared here is my own personal experience. If you think you may have LPT and LLD, please schedule an appointment with an Orthopedic doctor. Once there don’t let them tell you it’s not Structural without doing X-Rays. If they try to give you a diagnosis by just looking at your legs, leave.